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Washington Ticket Cameras Under Legal Siege

June 26, 2009

Washington Ticket Cameras Under Legal Siege
A pair of class action lawsuits proposed against cities in Washington that use photo enforcement.  

The Rosen FirmA trio of powerhouse lawfirms are taking on nearly all the cities in Washington state that employ red light cameras and speed cameras. The firm Williamson and Williams struck first by filing a proposed class action suit on Tuesday against nineteen cities. The firm’s primary claim is that the $124 fines imposed on clients violated a state law specifying that automated tickets “shall not exceed the amount of a fine issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction.” General parking fines are between $25 and $50 in each jurisdiction.

City officials insist that the law allows them to charge the amount of special fines such as parking in a handicapped space. Seattle has 105 types of parking violations that merit $45 fines. Just two merit an amount in excess of $124.

Yesterday, the Rosen Firm joined with Breskin, Johnson and Townsend in launching a second proposed class action suit against twenty cities plus Australia’s Redflex Traffic Systems and American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the companies that run the photo programs. Although the Rosen suit argues the fine amounts are excessive, the firm’s centerpiece argument is that the cities employed illegal “cost neutral” contracts with Redflex and ATS.

“State law requires that the cities pay the vendors of these cameras only based on the value of the equipment and services provided, and it prohibited the cities from paying such vendors based on revenue generated by the cameras so as to not induce improper activities by the vendor,” the lawsuit states, citing RCW 46.63.170.

Sultan City, which is not named in either lawsuit, explained a proposed cost neutrality arrangement in the following terms.

“Notwithstanding the fixed fee provisions provided herein to the contrary, Redflex assures the customer that the programs provided hereby shall be cost neutral to customer,” a city memo dated June 28, 2007 explained. “The maximum compensation that customer shall be obligated to pay to Redflex each month is the fixed fee or the gross revenue received by the customer from paid violations, whichever is less.”

The Rosen suit cited a California appellate case (view ruling) in arguing that cost neutrality arrangements violated the legislature’s intention to eliminate the financial incentive for vendors and cities to issue more tickets.

The Rosen suit also goes after the cities of Bellevue, Fife, Lynnwood, Monroe and Renton for failing to obtain the legally required approval from the state Administrative Office of the Courts for infraction forms. Auburn, Lakewood and SeaTac actually used forms that were rejected by the court.

“According to state law, a traffic infraction case does not begin, and there is no presumption that an infraction was committed, until a ticket on an approved form is issued by a police officer,” the suit argues. “Despite this violation of state law, the cities and the two camera companies have been improperly collecting and splitting millions of dollars by mailing out what amounts to fake tickets.”

The issue is more than a technicality, as the cities of Fife and SeaTac deliberately omitted mention that accused vehicle owners could file a declaration of nonresponsibility under state law. The firm also argued that the state’s presumption that the owner of a photographed vehicle is the driver responsible for the offense impermissibly shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, in violation of state and federal due process rights.

The cities of Auburn, Bremerton, Burien, Federal Way, Fife, Issaquah, Lacey, Lake Forest Park, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Monroe, Moses Lake, Puyallup, Renton, SeaTac, Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma are parties to both suits. The Rosen firm added Bellevue and Wenatchee to the list. The Williamson suit targeted Bonney Lake over tickets the city issued before shutting down its camera program.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. RONALD W BERRY permalink
    June 26, 2009 5:34 pm

    I received a camera ticket in the amount of $100.00 for driving through a school zone at 30 mph.

    The magistrate lowered the fine to $80.00.

  2. RONALD W BERRY permalink
    June 26, 2009 5:35 pm

    Are you looking at school zone cameras as well?

  3. David Boyer permalink
    September 25, 2009 12:54 pm

    These Cameras are a good thing! For the first time in my life (46) I am getting involved in politics. Fife’s ticket of $124 has set me off!! This is demoralizing and wrong. Our government is out of control and I am sick of it.

  4. Liz Forsman permalink
    September 28, 2009 8:37 pm

    I recently got a ticket at the 54th and 20th st in Fife. The Photo clearly shows me in the right hand turn lane, it also shows me stopping by the looks of the bright tail lights. The right turn, after stopping, on red; triggered a $124 fine. I’m going to court on it.

  5. Jess permalink
    September 30, 2009 8:53 am

    Liz….I got a ticket at the same location…Have you had your hearing yet?

  6. Kathy permalink
    December 21, 2009 1:01 pm

    Liz Forsman,

    I as well received a photo enforcement ticket on 54th and 20th st. in Fife. I stopped at the red light in the right hand lane, then proceeded with a (R) turn which is legal in the State of WA. I was not the driver.
    Have you gone to court yet? What was the outcome?


  7. John Dover permalink
    February 26, 2010 11:34 am

    I received a photo ticket in fife took it to court watched the video that morning showing me stopping for the light and then turning right. sat in court for a hour watching the cash cow court in action every thing from the judge rolling his eye’s and posing to show his frustation at a women that didn’t speek english( she got off with a warning) to a women asking for a community work option because she had no money (she was told that the city of fife does not have a chain gang to work off her ticket she left the court in tears) every person that came to court was repeatedly told from a very jaded judge did you stop before the white line, not did you stop but where you stopped. back to my ticket I stopped 16-20 inches past the white line, my stop was a safe stop I didn’t blow the light I he repeated did you stop before the white line having to say no was told come forward sign here pay the ticket. asked for community work to pay for ticket was told it’s not a option.. After court called city mangers office to lodge complant and ask a question was the light there for community safety or to make money? I was told for safety by the assistant to the manger. She said they should have a work option and she would bring it to the attention of her boss and get back to me on it.

  8. Hokkan Hui permalink
    December 13, 2010 12:08 am

    I got a speeding ticket for driving 26mph in a school zone of 20mph. The problem is that the flashing yellow light is blocked by a large tree in front of it and makes it a kind of not noticeable in the environment. Anyway I lost the case when I attended the court to appeal. I do not think it is right for the City (Renton) to charge me $124 just for that. I did not pay for it and now goes to collection and on my credit report. How can I fight for this?

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